The Product Kata, or the art of avoiding the Product Owner's biggest failure

Written by David Beck, on 23 March 2021

You're building an application, you're on schedule (put whatever you want behind this expression), in Scrum (put whatever you want behind that). Finally, you're about to deploy your first version. And there you, your clients, your users, your market, are not impressed. They're disappointed, in short, there's a strong chance you've forgotten one or two important things along the way and that your product is clearly heading towards failure. The Product Kata might be able to help you.

What's the problem?

Perhaps you're familiar with Henrik Kniberg's drawing that shows the opposition between an approach of accumulating features and an approach of choosing, among all potential features, those that bring real value.

It's a first improvement in the path of a product manager, yet it's not the most critical one.

Even before adding value, it's even more important to focus on your real understanding of your users' problems. Indeed, you can build a product with a lot of value. However, it doesn't really address your users' problems.

Your users don't want an app, they want to solve their problems:

  • Do you know why you're building this product?
  • What are the problems your users are facing that you're trying to solve?
  • What are the results you're seeking to achieve with this product?
  • How do you know that what you've built will enable you to achieve these results?

If you're struggling to answer these questions, it's time to step up your ranking in Product Ownership with a tool I discovered from Melissa Perri : the product Kata.

Scientific approach to product development

You forgot while you were busy building your product to confirm or refute all your assumptions and biases through experimentation. For example: what seems good to me is good for my clients / what I see is the absolute truth and therefore my clients' reality / etc. Fortunately, science has given us an experimentation approach that has been working for centuries; We'll see how Melissa Perri uses this approach for the product.

Melissa Perri first borrowed the general idea from Toyota Kata, a mix of an improvement kata and a coaching kata.

She also took Mike Rother's idea who adapted the kata to Kanban.

In all these katas, we find the main ingredients of a scientific approach: Observation, Hypothesis, Experiment, Result, Interpretation, Conclusion, which cuts short our cognitive biases.

This combination of katas leads to the Product Kata. The latter seeks to continuously improve the product and reduce uncertainty around it through experimentation and learning.

The Product Kata

Melissa Perri also starts from the premise that addressing a user problem is not easy and that at the beginning we know absolutely nothing about the problem, nor how to address it, nor the right way to address it.

It's through iterating with this kata that we can remove uncertainties and produce the right product.

This kata is a succession of 4 steps that you repeat endlessly until you reach the final goal. Every time you start an action related to your product, use these 4 steps:

  • Understanding the direction we're taking. What is the company's strategy, what are the major business objectives, etc.

  • Analyzing the current situation. Where are we right now in terms of our knowledge and our product compared to the vision?

  • Breaking down and determining what the next goal is.

  • Choosing the appropriate step in the product process (problem exploration, solution exploration, solution optimization)


By using this kata, we also realize that the role of the product manager doesn't start the day we start building it. It starts well in advance with the discovery and exploration stage (Discovery).

What better way to debunk misconceptions or unrealistic demands than to ask that it be based on facts? Perhaps even they will thank you for setting things straight just in time.